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How to get your voice right

by on 23 Apr, 2011

Every piece of writing has a voice. The key is to make sure that it is the right voice for your audience. You need to decide whether you want to get up close to your reader or keep a distance; whether you want to be their mate in the pub or a trustworthy adviser. And you need to act on that decision.

This piece of writing from sets out to be the reader’s best friend.

What are you doing this sunny weekend?

Sunny Easter bank holiday + unlimited Easter chocolate = yay! I’ve calculated that a 10-minute cycle to purchase a massive Lindt Easter bunny will entirely cancel out the calories involved. They are official Health Editor figures, so go ahead and eat that bunny’s head guilt-free.

You can see why it succeeds: it speaks directly to the reader when it says “go ahead…”

And it could just as easily be spoken as read – the language is colloquial and informal. It is giving advice, but is obviously meant to be taken lightheartedly.

This excerpt from one of the advice pages of the CancerResearch website also offers advice, but it has a completely different tone of voice.

What staging is

The stage of a cancer tells you how big it is and how far it has spread. It is important because it helps your doctor decide which treatment you need. The tests and scans you have to diagnose your cancer give some information about the stage. Sometimes it is not possible to be certain about the stage of a cancer until after surgery.

There are different ways of staging lung cancer – they are the number staging system and the TNM system.

It is equally successful, but for different reasons. It makes a complex and frightening subject simple because it uses short sentences and chooses language carefully. There is no medical jargon to confuse the lay reader for whom this is intended, but the subject matter means that the langauge is serious.   So, although it also speaks directly to the reader, it is not informal.

Both of these work because the writers thought about the technques they could use to get the voice they wanted.

So when you are writing, do the same. Think:

  • What kind of language  should I use? What is the right vocabulary for my reader?
  • What kind of sentences should I use? Long or short; simple or complex?
  • How close do I want to be to my reader? What is the best way to achieve that?
One Comment
  1. Great point.

    Consistency of voice is also key. One of the nicest compliments I got on my new book, a memoir, is that the voice carries clearly through all 75,000 words. It was a lot of work to insure this. It’s conversational, but not confessional….that’s a fine line and one too easy to blunder over.

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